When you are training your upper body, you may find your range of motion is severely limited. Maybe you are feeling a lot of the tension in your neck and traps when performing back exercises, or your shoulder exercises are especially tough to master. Muscle tension and overall tightness in the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades (scapula), chest muscles, and shoulder muscles will severely restrict your freedom of movement when performing upper body exercises. Scapular winging in particular, is basically when the most inner part of your shoulder blades (closest to your spine) stick out, protruding from your back making it looks like a pair of wings. Hence the name scapular winging. Scapular winging will 100% cause a lot of rigidity, and a severe lack in range of motion when you are performing upper body exercises.
Feast your eyes on my graphic below:
In terms of “scapular winging” this is a mild form, but the type I see often! Although mild, this posture will still impact your range of motion and ability to properly innervate the working muscle. If you cannot properly connect with the working muscle, then you are not able to effectively train it or strengthen it. Notice how the shoulders are pulled up towards the ears, this will create a slightly hunched appearance from the front, making chest muscles tight. Notice how the traps are high and pulled up towards the ears almost in a permanent shrug, among range of motion issues, tension headaches may be an occurrence because the neck and surrounding muscles are under constant tension. The distance between the shoulder blades is spread apart, making the spine of the scapula stick out from your back, which you can see is sort of like a wing. The palms of the hands are now facing behind, which is causing the arms and shoulders to roll forward.
The Muscles Affected
- The Serratus Anterior muscle is highly affected from scapular winging or a general hunched posture resulting in scapular winging.
- The serratus anterior lays behind the scapula against the rib rage, and then wraps around from the back, and into the front down the rib cage. Its job is to stabilize the scapula, and this muscle is innervated by the thoracic nerve. If this nerve is impeded due to muscle tightness and rigidity, then the nerve may not be connecting with the serratus anterior, resulting in destabilization of your scapula making them spread apart (winging).
- Strength training and getting the serratus anterior stronger will not work if there is impingement in the nerve innervating the muscle.
- In order to help this problem and scapular winging, the muscles surrounding the serratus anterior need to be stretched and their muscle tension released. If the serratus anterior is not doing its job, then load will be transferred onto surrounding muscles.
Stretch the Following Muscles
All of the following muscles are likely tight and rigid due to improper posture from lifestyle such as being a student, where sitting from studying and lectures places you in a favourable position to slump or hunch. Desk jobs, commuting, or jobs where you are sitting in a car driving around all day, also will contribute to completely immobile and rigid upper body movements, and especially rigidity and tightness in the shoulders. The following muscles are what need to be stretched in order to 1. give your serratus anterior a chance at getting properly innervated by the thoracic nerve, and 2. Allow for proper range of motion within your rotator cuff so you can retract your shoulder blades appropriately, and provide full range of motion within the rotator cuff for upper body exercises.
- Rhomboids: The rhomboids are on the other side of the serratus anterior, so the opposite muscle to the one that is lengthened is naturally going to be tight.
- Levator Scapulae: On the diagram, the girls shoulder is raised due to this muscle pulling her one side up. This muscle attaches from behind your neck/ear to your scapula i.e. shoulder blade, so if this is tight it will pull up your traps/shoulders. If you get tension headaches, this muscle may be contributing to that.
- Pec Minor: The pec minor attaches high up onto your shoulder blade. Your scapula i.e. shoulder blade has a little hook that comes over your shoulder from back to front and your pec minor attaches to this. On the diagram, a hunched and raised shoulder can indicate a tight pec minor since the pec minor is tight and pulling the shoulder blade out of retraction. If your pec minor is tight, your lateral rotation of the scapula and mobility of your shoulder joint will be SEVERELY impacted and deeply restricted. Upper body workouts will be difficult to achieve proper form without possibly causing further damage to already tight and over active muscles.
- Pec Major: The pec major lies overtop of the pec minor, and more horizontal. It attaches to the humerus/arm at the top close to the gleno-humeral joint/shoulder joint. Since its attached to the arm, if this muscle is tight, it will internally rotate your arm and once again pull your scapula out of retraction. On the diagram, notice how the girl’s arms are rotated inwards so that her palms are now facing behind her. This is because her pec major is tight, internally rotating her arm, therefore severely limiting her range of motion within the rotator cuff and shoulder joint.